There is a strong belief among game developers that integrating into the Steam algorithm is the only way to ensure successful game sales and a large, continuous revenue stream. To that end, developers are ready to do almost anything to push their game onto the top of Steam’s lists, like “Top Sellers,” “Featured & Recommended,” and so on. They assume that getting on a mythical “most wanted” list within Steam is the key to a successful start.
This belief creates anxiety that if a game isn’t seen, wishlisted, or doesn’t make it into any rating on Steam, it’s doomed to poor sales. That fear further leads developers to completely ignore all the marketing activities they can do — independent of the Steam platform — to spark interest in their game. Therefore, most studios never even use one of the most valuable tools in their marketing arsenal: pre-orders.
In reality, when you launch pre-order campaigns for your Steam activations, you can drive the actual sales, build an engaged community, and launch an effective advertising campaign. Combine those external online campaigns with Steam’s algorithm and Wishlists can greatly increase a game’s sales at release and beyond.
Let’s take a closer look at three Steam myths and how pre-orders plus community activity (outside of Steam) can positively drive sales.
According to official Steam statistics, only 7.3% of users who added a game to their Steam Wishlist in 2020 bought it in the first week after release. Two important facts about this statistic:
The net result for indie developers is that Steam Wishlists’ actual conversion to purchase at release is closer to 1-3%. Further, if you plan to release your game more than a year from its initial announcement, then the most effective way to garner sales would be with pre-orders, which is something Steam does not typically offer.
Additionally, aside from revealing how many Steam users added your game to their Wishlist, the Steam platform is a bit light on statistics reporting. Steam does not provide location details, demographic characteristics, audience preferences, or other useful customer marketing data to build an effective campaign and increase your sales.
Direct sales through your website allow you to collect valuable information about your audience you can use immediately to benefit your players and your business. Your own site and integrated store also empowers you to create a hub for your player community, which helps increase your game’s popularity and long-term success.
Many developers think that if their advertising efforts yield a high conversion to Steam Wishlists, they automatically result in a high conversion to game purchases. However, it’s important to remember that users do not spend real-world money to add the game to their Wishlist. Zero dollars out of pocket is the very reason for high conversion rates and quantity of user Wishlists for any given game. Actual game sales are highly dependent on pricing, reviews, previews, streams, and other factors.
A more reasonable assumption is that pre-orders are likely responsible for the real conversion to sales at launch. Pairing a pre-order campaign with the momentum from Wishlists like “Top,” “Popular,” or “Upcoming” is a savvy way to work with Steam’s algorithm.
Hell Let Loose is a hardcore World War II first-person shooter released in 2019 that cleverly balanced sales between Steam and Xsolla-powered landing pages. How did they do it?
It’s an approach that works. We further recommend you implement an “Add to Wishlist” button directly on your landing page a couple of months before release. Some of your site visitors will convert to Wishlist tallies, including individuals who have already pre-ordered, to keep up-to-date with news and the game’s actual release date.
Pre-orders, Steam Wishlists, and sales are not mutually exclusive. Precedent reveals that pre-orders have a positive impact on both Wishlists and Steam sales. For example, when a developer beta tests a game among users who pre-ordered, it drives community interest, boosting pre-orders and Wishlist numbers.
We can directly point to a recent experience that perfectly showcases how general community chatter, influencers, and gaming media heavily influence Steam ratings and conversion rates, even if the title has been out for a few years.
At launch, the game Among Us relied heavily on Wishlists, but the number of downloads and sales remained low. The developers determined the project was complete and began developing their next game.
The situation changed almost immediately when a famous streamer found the game and broadcast its gameplay – two years after its release! Soon, other streamers and audience members took an interest in the game, leading to a significant increase in sales and first place in many Steam ratings. The rise in CCU was so substantial that the developers had to pause work on their next game and optimize the older game.
This example clearly shows how strong the influence of external factors can be on Steam ratings. Pre-orders and your website allow you to build an engaged audience that will promote your game via “word-of-mouth” through different channels, including Steam. The chit-chat sparks interest from new players and can give a boost to sales on release.
The ideal timeframe to launch pre-orders is three to six months before release – the point at which customers can be confident the game will release on time. It also works as part of your marketing campaign to drive excitement and hype around your game.
When you launch your own pre-orders campaign – rather than rely solely on Steam’s platform, you won’t have any rules or regulations to follow. Further, leveraging a suite of solutions – such as those provided by Xsolla – frees you from development worries and back-end tasks.
It’s no secret that launching a pre-orders campaign for your game can increase your revenue potential. By combining your own site, a pre-launch campaign, and the power of Steam Wishlists, you can grow a community of devoted players, extend your reach, and significantly augment post-launch game sales.
Partner with Xsolla. We know that planning and executing a solid revenue plan doesn’t happen overnight. That’s why teaming up with a partner like Xsolla and implementing a suite of solutions and products – like Site Builder, Pre-orders, and Promotions for Subscriptions – is valuable. We understand the unique challenges of video game monetization and can help you navigate them — so you can focus on what you do best.
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